On Nov. 13, Ve’ahavta held its annual Starry Nights gala in Toronto celebrating the organization’s 20 years of tikkun olam – repairing the world.
It truly was a brilliantly organized evening showcasing the organization’s programming since its inception, including the very popular mobile Jewish response to the homeless and its international tikkun olam work in such places as Israel, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Honduras, El Salvador, Guyana and Zimbabwe.
Liberal MP Michael Levitt, representing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, spoke passionately about Ve’ahavta’s commitment to strengthening the Jewish People and the world. Similarly, the 600 people in attendance were privy to heartfelt and inspiring messages from two of Ve’ahavta’s clients, both of whom attributed their growth and survival to the Ve’ahavta Street Academy and our work on the streets of Toronto.
According to tradition, tikkun olam awards were handed out to individuals who have shifted the world ever so slightly from bad to better. JIAS and Lifeline Syria were honoured for their work assisting Syrian refugees. Janis Roth and Lesley Brown, CEOs of their respective organizations, spoke beautifully about our community’s immediate response to the plight of the tired and weary Syrians refugees. It was clear from their messages that at the core of our people lies the imperative of “loving your neighbour,” even if that person or family stems from a place unfriendly to Israel and the Jewish People. They helped us understand that given the chance, Syrians can be our friends and that Canada, a country brimming with tolerance, is the place to make that happen.
My dear friend and former Ve’ahavta chairperson Mark Diamond accepted the award for community visionary and spoke about his commitment to Ve’ahavta and to the Jewish value of chesed, or kindness.
Once again, the very eclectic group of guests in the room – some from shelters and others from the mansions of Forest Hill – listened to Mark’s reminiscences about travelling the streets of Toronto in the Ve’ahavta van with his wife and daughters, learning as he went along about our ability to share our many gifts with the less fortunate. Mark also talked about his Camp Manitou, a classy, unique and earthy summer home for thousands of kids over the years, where everyone plays a role in tikkun olam programs throughout the summer.
Finally, those in attendance heard from Ruth Messinger, the world ambassador for American Jewish World Services (AJWS), one of the largest and most accomplished Jewish humanitarian organizations in the world.
Ruth, an international icon, spoke extensively about strategic ways and means of training the next generation of Jewish leadership. This very erudite woman, who once ran for the mayoralty of New York City, fascinated us with her description of humanitarian programs that AJWS has underwritten in dozens of countries around the world. Ruth talked about AJWS’ advocacy on behalf of some of the most destitute people in the world, including Dominicans of Haitian descent who have had their land and rights taken away from them. As Ruth said, “this is something we as Jews get.”
Starry Nights was action-packed. Mostly, though, it was an evening when the Ve’ahavta family reminisced, celebrated the present and looked to the next 20 years, when the world might just be repaired in its entirety. It was a night wrapped in spirit, attended by people who exemplify generosity of spirit, and centred around the existence of an organization that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so. Mazel tov to the staff and volunteers who succeeded at creating the gala of the year!
Am I proud? Yes. Very much.